I have been tamed. Really, over the past months, these wild, delightful children have been taming me. Slowly but surely we moved closer to the middle, until we were side by side, laughing and hugging freely.
But I have been tamed in a way I didn’t expect and it makes me uncomfortable. Summer is tough, because our day camps last only three days, so that means I meet and love kids who I am only involved with for a few brief days. It’s a very bittersweet experience.
I have been tamed, in three short days, by a boy whose hair will remind of the wheat fields, much like the way the fox will remember the Little Prince. A boy whose toothy grin and hazel eyes hit a nerve in me. A boy who was so unabashedly needing love and protection that how could you do anything but let him hold your hand all day?
Why this kid, over these three days, over all the others for months and months? Why can’t I get him out of my head? If it sounds like I’m in love, it’s because I am. This little boy, who will be called Mason, came with a warning. For weeks, it was like tracking a hurricane – lots of warnings and emergency planning. I had been told he was hard to handle, had lots of aggression, and that at the least misbehavior, we would just call his Nana to get him. Thankfully, as a volunteer, I don’t have that experience of him. I took the warnings with a grain of salt and just prepared myself for the week.
I couldn’t have been more unprepared.
As the day went on, it became apparent: he definitely has AD(H)D [not sure which]. But I didn’t see the little devil that others had told me of. I just saw a boy who was vulnerable in a way that reminded me of what my call as a Christian is. He was just a boy who needed some one-on-one attention and to be told he was worthwhile and needed.
Mason is that kid who is constantly reminded he is a nuisance; he is too much; he is trouble. The expectations are low. I did everything I could, then, to let him know that while there are rules to observe, there is much more love to give. We quickly became buddies and it was that first day that he found his way into my heart.
By the end of the first day, his meds were wearing out, since he hadn’t been sent with his 2nd dosage. He was acting up more, but he knew he needed his meds. Have you ever heard a 7 year-old cry to you, “But I need my meds!” It’s heartbreaking. Not because he’s on the meds – they certainly help him – but because he knows he needs them and that without them, trouble is coming. And it’s heartbreaking knowing that other adults see him as a problem when they know he has these issues; attention disorders are no fun, because you watch intelligent, creative, and loving people get derailed and into trouble by their worst moments. A diagnosis should not define a person, especially one as young as 7, but I watched it happening.
The biggest gift, and thus the biggest responsibility, that adults often neglect is the gift of a child’s trust. But should you recognize this gift and responsibility, you will find your heart soft and full and tamed, and wheat fields will remind you of your friend’s golden hair.
Day two of camp started off better. Mason came prepared with his second dosage of medicine for his ADD Mason had made himself mine; he clung to me all day. When we made pictures and did paintings, he handed me a stack: “These are for you!” When they got moved around, he made sure to tell anyone touching them that they were mine, a gift from him to me. He wanted to sit next to me, to show me what he was doing. And though it often took multiple restatements, he listened pretty well. Isn’t it amazing what we can do if we just spend a little time?
The only drawback was that trying to make sure his needs were met made me feel like I was pulling away from other kids’ needs. I trusted that they realized Mason had special things going on that made the attention necessary, but you still wonder – am I doing enough? Am I showing favoritism? Am I giving him enough space to act independently and learn for himself? Just to be sure, I made sure to give extra hugs to the other kids and reminded myself that I was only seeing Mason for 3 days, and a little spoiling attention would be okay. Especially since it seemed he so rarely got it.
The amazing thing about people who have AD(H)D is how they are actually excellent at focusing attention. We imagine them to be wild, hyper people who can’t focus and yes, that is obviously a defining feature. But what most people don’t know is that when something DOES capture the attention of someone with this disorder, it really, really captures it. For Mason it was calculators. I’ve never met a kid who wanted to play with calculators and practice math problems more than this kid. Being in 1st grade, his level of math was – what, simple addition and subtraction? – but he kept typing in and mumbling, “5 x 5 equals 25.” And he wouldn’t say, “five times five,” but “five x [the letter x] five.” And he would often just hit the square button or some odd function to see what would happen. Every. Spare. Moment.
Can you begin to imagine what he could do, if teachers and schools had the resources and abilities to reach kids like him? To approach them from their strengths and not weaknesses? I don’t blame teachers or schools. They have lots of students to manage and limited time and knowledge to manage all of them. And Mason has lots of needs outside of just his attention disorder.
But I think about how we treat kids, and sometimes I am appalled. When kids don’t behave in the way we want them or expect them to they are automatically trouble. When kids talk back they are disobedient and irreverent. If we want kids to be successful, we need to look at how we parent, how we teach, how we care. What messages do we send? I truly believe Mason was so needy this week because the messages he got were that he was trouble and a headache and had little to contribute without messing things up. Our call, then, as Christians working in childcare or education or any human service field is to counteract that message.
Kate B. is a long-term volunteer at CAP’s Eagle Child and Family Development Center and SPARK (Scholastic Preparation & Arts and Recreation for Kids) program. She is a member of the McCreary Volunteer Community.